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Walking Through History

Topography and Identity in the Works of Ingeborg Bachmann and Thomas Bernhard

Katya Krylova

This book was the winner of the 2011 Peter Lang Young Scholars Competition in German Studies.
The post-war landscape of Europe is unthinkable without the voices of the Austrian writers Ingeborg Bachmann (1926–1973) and Thomas Bernhard (1931–1989). Their work, coming after the devastation wrought by the Second World War and the Holocaust, is rooted in a specifically Austrian context of repression of this traumatic historical legacy. In post-war Austria, discourse on the recent past may have been dominated by silence, but the legacy of this past was all too apparent in the country’s ruined and speedily reconstructed cityscapes.
This book investigates Bachmann’s and Bernhard’s treatment of two fundamental aspects of the Austrian historical legacy: the trauma of the war and the desire to return to an ideal homeland, known as ‘Haus Österreich’. Following a methodology based on Freud and Benjamin, this comparative study demonstrates that the confrontation with Austria’s troubled history occurs through the protagonists’ ambivalent encounter with the landscape or cityscape that they inhabit, travel or return to. The book demonstrates the centrality of topography on both thematic and structural levels in the authors’ prose works, as a mode of confronting the past and making sense of the present.


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Chapter 1 Topography and the search for origin in Bachmann’s ‘Drei Wege zum See’


‘Drei Wege zum See’ (1972) has often been termed ‘Bachmann’s most patri- otic prose-work’, primarily due to the author’s invocation of the Habsburg myth and situating of her Erzählung as a continuation of Joseph Roth’s elegiac Trotta novels.1 Owing to the Erzählung’s stylistic and thematic composition, the self-ref lexive authorial location of the text in the Austrian literary tradition, and biographical references, in what was to be Bachmann’s last published work during her lifetime, ‘Drei Wege zum See’ has been the subject of considerable literary scholarship.2 No other prose work by Bachmann of fers such a sustained discussion of Austrian nationhood or identity. However, the predominant critical focus on issues of national identity and complex intertextuality in the text has often neglected ques- tions of how the text may be seen to operate through a topographical framework and what this adds to our interpretation of Bachmann’s work.3 My discussion in this chapter will not neglect questions of intertextuality, which cannot be overlooked in ‘Drei Wege zum See’, but will reorient these 1 See Irena Omelaniuk’s ‘Ingeborg Bachmann’s “Drei Wege zum See”: a Legacy of Joseph Roth’, Seminar, 19/4 (1983), 246–64. 2 This encompasses both studies of the Simultan collection with a focus on Austrian history and identity; Bahrawy (1989), Dippel (1995), Bannasch (1997), O’Regan (2000), Spencer (2008) and articles exploring autobiography, topography and inter- textuality in ‘Drei Wege zum See’; Omelaniuk (1983), Lensing (1985), Nutting (1985), Eigler (1991), Dollenmayer (1993), Weigel (1999), Gluscevic (2002). 3 Freudian and...

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